Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert

by Terry Tempest Williams

Paperback, 2002




Vintage (2002), 288 pages


In this potent collage of stories, essays, and testimony, Williams makes a stirring case for the preservation of America's Redrock Wilderness in the canyon country of southern Utah. As passionate as she is persuasive, Williams, the beloved author of Refuge,  is one of the country's most eloquent and imaginative writers. The desert is her blood. Here she writes lyrically about the desert's power and vulnerability, describing wonders that range from an ancient Puebloan sash of macaw feathers found in Canyonlands National Park to the desert tortoise-an animal that can "teach us the slow art of revolutionary patience" as it extends our notion of kinship with all life. She examines the civil war being waged in the West today over public and private uses of land-an issue that divides even her own family. With grace, humor, and compassionate intelligence, Williams reminds us that the preservation of wildness is not simply a political process but a spiritual one. … (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member eduscapes
One of my favorite nature writers, Williams does an outstanding job describing her love of the red canyons of southern Utah. Through short stories and essays, you feel like you're sharing her experiences.
LibraryThing member RJRutstein
This is a beautifully written evocation of the Desert Country of Utah and the Colorado Plateau. A call for wilderness and ecological responsibility. She has a poetic voice and her stories and essays are emotional and touching.
LibraryThing member mkboylan
9. [Red Passion and Patience in the Desert] by [[Terry Tempest Williams]]

This is my first reading of Williams and certainly a five star read. Yes her lyrical descriptions of desert and wilderness are alone worth the read, but what struck me the most were two specific ideas.

1. Time spent in the
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wilderness can lead to spiritual connection to the earth. This connection provides the strength to take on the responsibility and commitment of political action to preserve the earth, in a democratic process, perhaps even eventually leading to consensus.

2. Williams gives an illustration of this possible consensus, wherein environmentalists support locals who may not want wilderness designation because of perceived economic loss. The environmentalists put their money where their mouth is by "buying locally grown beef or purchasing value-added timber products from small-scale logging companies mindful of harmful forestry practices such as clear-cutting."

This book gives me hope.
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LibraryThing member LeahMo
Red is a collection of stories and essays about the desert of southern Utah and the necessity of preserving it. None of the stories are more than a few pages long, and they serve to evoke a sense of place for the reader who has not been to these majestic lands. Although some of the stories felt a
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bit flat on their own, I think as a collection they fulfill their purpose. More compelling than the fictional creations are Williams’ personal recollections and essays.

In “Labor,” Williams muses upon one of her visits to The Birthing Rock, a boulder with an image of a woman giving birth etched onto it. This ancient Anasazi petroglyph prompts her to contemplate her decision not to have children and the way she and her husband have chosen to define family.

“I look across the sweep of slickrock stretching in all directions, the rise and fall of such arid terrain. A jackrabbit bolts down the wash. Piñon jays flock and bank behind a cluster of junipers. The tracks of coyote are everywhere.

Would you believe me when I tell you this is family, kinship with the desert, the breadth of my relations coursing through a wider community, the shock of recognition with each scarlet gilia, the smell of rain.”

Other essays argue for the value of wilderness and the importance of conserving it. However, the struggle to protect wild lands is a difficult battle when corporations are clamoring to develop them. In “To Be Taken,” she recounts how the issue of conservation vs. development and profit divides even her own family. A family gathering at Christmas becomes tense when her uncle vents his frustration at his business’ work being held up by environmental groups because the land they want to develop is a desert tortoise habitat.

Williams’ writing fits well with the desert setting she describes. At first her words seem almost spare, but as you wander deeper into her pages, you see that her thoughts have a quiet power to them that reflect her seemingly barren but actually vibrant surroundings.

“These wildlands are alive. When one of us says, “Look, there’s nothing out there,” what we are really saying is, “I cannot see.”

The Colorado Plateau is wild. There is still wilderness here, big wilderness. Wilderness holds an original presence giving expression to that which we lack, the losses we long to recover, the absences we seek to fill. Wilderness revives the memory of unity. Through its protection, we can find faith in our humanity.”

Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert is an evocative, slowly meandering book about the vulnerability, power, and beauty of the desert. Terry Tempest Williams makes convincing arguments for conserving America’s wild lands for future generations in this collection of passionately written pieces.

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